We shall continue our study on the difference between religiosity and spirituality; particularly we will be looking at the subject of dead works.
The New Testament speaks of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19 onwards and we are all familiar with those works: immorality, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger, sorcery, and many things like that mentioned in those verses. We understand that a true Christian, as a spiritual person, can never indulge in these sins. These are known as sins – these works are so obviously sinful that it would be difficult for a believer to practice any of them without being deeply convicted in his conscience. So, they are not dangerous in the sense of leading us astray. Certainly they are evil. But one good thing is that, when we fall in any of them, we are aware of it, because our conscience tells us immediately. Even a worldly unconverted person’s conscience will tell him about immorality and things like that.
But dead works are more deceitful. The New Testament speaks about dead works in Hebrews 6:1. It says that we should repent from dead works. Now in the Old Testament there is no such thing as dead works. You either have good works or bad works; there is only good and evil. But in the New Testament we have good works, evil works, and dead works. Good works are works that please God; evil works are works which are mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21, also known as the works of the flesh. What are dead works then?
Dead works are works that appear good externally but that spring from a corrupt motive or done for the wrong reason. Therefore they are like filthy garments in God’s eyes. It is like a person who is filled with leprosy giving you a first class apple to eat with his leprous hand. Would you take it and eat it? The apple may be good, but it is contaminated with the germs of leprosy in that person’s hands. It is the same way when we offer a good thing to God but contaminated with the wrong motive. It could be a prayer, you could sing a solo in a Christian meeting, and your aim may be to get honour for yourself. Well, what is that – a good work or a bad work? – It is a dead work.
It is important for us to understand this. It is well known among believers that ‘‘The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins’’ (1 John 1:7), but what is not so well known is that ‘‘The blood of Christ must also cleanse us from dead works before we can serve the living God’’ (Heb. 9:14). So, what does the blood of Christ cleanse us from? – Not only sins. It must also cleanse us from the dead works. And therefore it is very, very important for us to have a very clear understanding as to what dead works are.
Let’s look at some of the type of works which we could call as dead works. First of all, dead works are works done without any joy. In other words, these are works done out of compulsion, or necessity, or for the fear of punishment, or something like that. You know how some of you get your son, for example, to obey you to do his homework when he wants to play out in the field. You force him to come in with a threat of punishing him with a cane if he doesn’t listen. Then he sits down with a grumpy face at his table and does his homework. He is not doing it with joy, but he is doing it. The homework is a good thing to do but then it is done out of compulsion.
It is the same way a lot of people pay their tithe; they don’t do it joyfully. They do it because they are told by some pastor that if they don’t do it they will be punished – that they will get some sickness in their home and then they have to give the money to the doctor at the hospital, if they don’t give it to God etc. So, out of fear, they pay their tithe.
Do you think God is interested in all these psychological techniques by which people are forced to give their money? – Far from it. These are the techniques of manipulators among Christians. The Bible says concerning giving, ‘‘God loves a cheerful giver’’ (2 Cor. 9:7). In everything God wants cheerfulness. The Bible says, in not a so well-known verse, that ‘‘God meets with those who rejoice in doing righteousness’’ (Is. 64:5), not just those who do righteousness. Let me show you another verse where the Lord was telling Israelites why they were being punished or why they would be punished in the future. Moses was telling them, ‘‘Because you did not serve the Lord with joy and with a glad heart for the abundance of all the things He has given you; therefore you shall serve your enemies …’’ (Deut. 28:47, 48).
Why did the Lord send the Israelites to become slaves at different times in their history? It is because they didn’t serve the Lord with joy. The Kingdom of God is not just righteousness (Rom. 14:17). This verse makes it very, very clear that the Kingdom of God consists of righteousness along with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In other words, if you just do righteousness without the joy of the Holy Spirit, you are not really serving the Kingdom of God; you are just fulfilling weak legalistic requirement. And, therefore, you can be religious, but not spiritual. A spiritual man is a man who has discerned dead works and repented of those dead works and cleansed his heart from dead works through the blood of Christ. The only ones who can bring joy and delight to the heart of God are those who do whatever they do with joy, with a cheerful heart.
Take this matter of tithing which I just mentioned earlier. This was a command under the Old Covenant. In fact, in the Old Covenant, in addition to your tithes you had to give other offerings and sacrifices. You ultimately end up giving about 15% or more of your income to God. But it is interesting to see that Jesus never commanded it. The only time He ever mentioned it is in Mathew 23 when he spoke to the Pharisees. That was the time when people were still under The Law and He said, ‘‘You ought to have done this (tithes) but not neglected the other things.’’ Otherwise, it was not a commandment that Jesus gave to people who have come under the New Covenant. That is why, after Acts 2, you never find any command to tithe. The only reference to it, after that, is in Hebrew’s 7:2 where it talks about Abraham tithing and giving his money to Melchizedek.
Why is there no commandment to tithe in the New Covenant? Because, in the Old Testament, the quantity you gave to God was important. In the New Testament the quality of your giving is what is more important – Not how much you give, but how you give. You understand the difference between how much you give and how you give? In the Old Testament, it was a question of how much you gave. If you didn’t give 10% you disobeyed. In fact, in the last page of the Old Testament it says, ‘‘You are robbers. You have not brought tithe into the storehouse. Bring the tithe in and see how I will bless you’’ (Mal. 3:10). But once you finish with Malachi that is the end of it.
When you come into the New Covenant, we read in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that the Lord is interested in you giving with joy. Then why is it so many people are being compelled to pay their tithes reluctantly? It is because of covetous Christian leaders who want them. So people pay up, but without any joy; it is not spontaneous giving. It is grudging, reluctant giving. The preachers who collect the money may be happy but God is not. God is not happy because the money is not given cheerfully.
I agree that it is a good discipline to give 10%. If a man says, ‘Well, if I don’t discipline myself, I will give nothing’ and gives 10%, then that is good. But don’t think that God is going to be happy if you give that money reluctantly. Christian preachers, very often, love very large givers but God loves cheerful givers. There is a lot of difference. You see, the New Covenant’s principle is not – give as much as you can give. No, the New Covenant’s principle is – give as much as you can give cheerfully and stop there. God doesn’t want anymore. God wants happy people. He wants children who are happy. Of course the Bible says, ‘Give in proportion to what God has given you. If you give more liberally you will get more liberally.’ That is all true. But when you do business with God thinking that if you give more you will get back more, that is a dead work. So, you see, even your giving money to God is something you may need to repent of because you gave it reluctantly or grudgingly. It is so clear from 2 Corinthians 9:7 not to give grudgingly. Did you notice that? – Not grudgingly, not under any compulsion. What does that mean? Nobody should compel another person to give because God loves a cheerful giver. Christian leaders are so different from God in this area.
This is one area of dead works – doing things without joy, cheerfulness, gladness. A second area of dead works are, works done without love. You know how, in the home of a new couple that are just married, the wife serves; everything she does for her husband is out of love; She cooks the food, washes the clothes, and keeps the house clean; all done out of love. Twenty years later you go to the same home, the wife is still cooking the food, still keeping the house clean, still washing the clothes, but it is not out of love anymore. Jesus said, ‘‘Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength.’’ This is the first commandment. If you don’t keep it, all your other works are useless.
Think about what the Lord told the leader of the church in Ephesus: ‘‘All your works are useless because you left your first love.’’ Also think of what the Lord told Peter in John chapter 21, when he was commissioning Peter to be His apostle once again after Peter had denied the Lord three times. What did the Lord ask Peter three times? Only one question: ‘do you love me?’ He said, ‘if you love me keep my Commandments,’ not if you fear me. That which is done out of fear is a dead work. That which is done in love is a living work. You can do a good work and yet, if it is done out of fear of judgment or the hope that you will get a reward from God, God has no value for it. He wants us to love and, from our love must come obedience, from our love must come service.
We have looked at two marks of dead works and we will continue to look at some other marks of dead works in the next study.
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.